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From Average

From Average to Great!

20th October 2007

Hello! How are things? Life for me has been getting busier and busier as business gears up after the summer. Many of my clients hardly have enough time to think these days – so thank you for taking the time to read and think today.

Yesterday, I visited Project Challenge, a huge conference in London, to  year a success story from a friend. Sarian Harcombe used to work with me in the Effective Business Change team at Mars Inc. She’s now the IT Portfolio Manager at the UK’s Environment Agency and has a great story to tell:

From ‘Average’ to ‘Great’

About a year ago, Sarian joined the Environment Agency. At that time, their project performance was average. Average doesn’t sound that bad, does it? But when you think about it, something like 80% of projects don’t deliver to time, cost and quality, so average is really quite poor. To get back to the story, Sarian has improved the situation no end by working in a co-ordinated way (that’s key) across all these areas at the same time:

  • quality of planning, including consistency of planning and a central view of all projects plans
  • introducing a new lifecycle process and stage checks
  • a new portfolio office with arms to shape, challenge and support projects
  • governance
  • reporting using trends rather than just snapshots. This means that you can see what’s really happening over time, not just the project manager’s view today
  • project management tools
  • resource pool coordination and management
  • training and development

So what really made this work? The clue came when Sarian described where most of the effort went – supporting change in behaviour and culture. This underpinned all of what happened at the Environment Agency. I suspect that this is why they achieved such an amazing shift in performance – one that was audited independently.

On a scale of 0 to 5 of project management maturity, Sarian’s team started out at level zero, which is quite average. It usually takes at least 12 months to move up one level on the scale, so they aimed very high with a target of level 2 within the year. When they were assessed, they had hit level 3! This is almost unheard of – well done to Sarian and her team!

Project Success isn’t all just about tools…

For me, this reinforces something that I believe very strongly around running projects. I believe that tools and techniques are very useful. When they are built on a solid foundation of appropriate culture and behaviour they can deliver great results. It is this combination that gives the chance of excellence.

What about you?

Where’s your team on a scale of 0 to 5? Are you developing across the board with a foundation of a positive, can-do culture and supporting behaviours? What’s the first step you can take in this direction? What’s going to help you to take that step?

All the best with your projects!



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“By Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work Ltd. “


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